The men’s and women’s 800m finals at the Asian Games in the South Korean city of Inchon on Wednesday (1) could not have been more different.
In a fast women’s two-lap final, records were broken. In a more tactical men’s race, rules were broken.
Few were surprised to see Indian record-holder Tintu Luka hit the front on the first lap of the women’s final. She hit the bell in 57.06 and continued to lead at 600m (1:27.43), but defending champion Margarita Mukasheva was within striking distance.
The Kazakhstani record-holder and World University Games champion made up the deficit and passed Luka in the closing stages, winning in a Games record of 1:59.02. Luka managed to hold on to second place in 1:59.19, both athletes running the second-fastest times of their careers.
In third, China’s Zhao Jing improved her PB by almost two seconds with 1:59.48. All three medal winners dipped below the previous Games record, while Mukasheva became the first woman to successfully defend an Asian Games 800m title since Israel’s Hannah Shezifi in 1970.
But while the women’s race was clear-cut, the same cannot be said of the men’s final which was held 10 minutes later.
The field went through the first lap in 53.01, led by Musaeb Abdulrahman Balla. The Qatari held his lead for another 200 metres or so before being caught by Saudi Arabia’s Abdulaziz Ladan Mohammed, who crossed the line in 1:46.28, followed by Balla and Bahrain’s Abraham Rotich.
But moments later it was announced that all three podium finishers had been disqualified; Mohammed for pushing another athlete on the first lap, and Balla and Rotich for lane violations.
It meant that Iraq’s Adnan Taess Akkar, who crossed the line more than a second after Mohammed in 1:47.48, was promoted from fourth to first, securing his country’s first athletics gold medal at the Asian Games since 1982.
Games records fall
The women’s 800m was just one of four Games records that fell on Wednesday and the day began – and ended – with Games records being smashed.
In the first event of the day, the men’s 50km race walk, Japan’s Takayuki Tanii took almost seven minutes off the Games record and narrowly missed breaking the Japanese record by seven seconds.
He led from the outset, building up a six-second lead at 5km, growing to 10 seconds at 10km. But by time he reached the 20km marker (1:28:30), Tanii had been joined at the front by compatriot Yuki Yamazaki and South Korea’s Chilsung Park.
Tanii and Yamazaki continued to share the lead for another 15 kilometres as Park began to struggle, falling behind by almost three minutes. Yamazaki then hit a difficult patch and was eventually disqualified less than 5km before the finish, although by that point he had dropped out of medal contention.
As Yamazaki, the Japanese record-holder for the distance, sat and watched Tanii forge ahead to gold in a Games record of 3:40:19, he could at least take some consolation in the fact that his national record remained intact.
Despite slowing significantly in the second half, Park held on to take silver in 3:49:15 with China’s Wang Zhendong finishing third in 3:50:52.
The last field event title to be decided on Wednesday was the women’s javelin, which saw its fair share of excitement.
Annu Rani opened proceedings with a national record of 59.53m, which was the leading mark for the first half of the contest. For a while it looked as though she would become India’s first gold medallist in the women’s javelin at the Asian Games.
But then the Chinese duo of Zhang Li and Li Lingwei came to life. Zhang threw a Games record of 62.42m in round four, then Li moved into second place with a throw of 61.07m. In the space of two throws, Rani had been relegated to bronze.
The contest wasn’t over though and both Chinese throwers improved again in the next round, Zhang throwing 63.98m and Li 61.43m. Zhang then rounded out her series with a third consecutive improvement on the Games record, this time with an almighty 65.47m, adding 73 centimetres to her PB set two years ago.
It was China’s second gold medal of the day, following Wu Shijiao’s domination of the women’s 100m hurdles. She obliterated her PB to win in 12.72, moving to second on the Chinese all-time list, just 0.08 behind Zhang Yu’s national record set in 1993. Team-mate Sun Yawei took silver in 13.05, improving on her bronze medal from four years ago.
Double delight for Adekoya and Ogunode
Having already won the one-lap sprint, Bahrain’s Kemi Adekoya added the 400m hurdles title to her collection, winning comfortably in 55.77. Just like she did in the 400m flat, she had broken the Games record in the preliminary round, so in the final she could focus on simply winning.
In second, Japan’s Satomi Kubokura improved on her bronze medal from the 2010 Asian Games, taking the silver in 56.21, 0.38 ahead of China’s Xiao Xia.
There was an identical Bahrain-Japan-China finish in the men’s event as world junior silver medallist Ali Khamis Khamis won in 49.71 from Japan’s Takayuki Kishimoto (49.81) and China’s Cheng Wen (50.29).
Qatar’s Femi Ogunode, who earlier in the competition had won the men’s 100m, was an easy winner of the 200m. Competing in his sixth race of the championships, the 20-second barrier eluded him once more, but his winning time of 20.14 (0.3m/s) was the second-fastest time of his career and broke the Games record. Saudi Arabia’s Fahhad Mohammed Al Subaie was a distant second in 20.74.
More gold for Kazakhstan
Mukasheva, the 800m champion, wasn’t the only Kazakhstani athlete to successfully defend her Asian Games title on Wednesday.
Olympic champion Olga Rypakova, having returned from childbirth in the latter stages of this summer, won the triple jump with 14.32m. It was her third successive gold medal at the Asian Games, having won the triple jump in 2010 and the heptathlon in 2006.
More gold came Kazakhstan’s way in the women’s 200m, which was won by Olga Safronova in 23.02, a quarter of a second ahead of China’s Wei Yongli.
Ushiro ends Karpov’s reign as decathlon champion
Kazakhstan’s Asian record-holder Dmitriy Karpov was bidding to win a third successive decathlon title in Inchon, but the 2004 Olympic bronze medallist eventually finished outside the medals.
The overnight lead was held by Uzbekistan’s Leonid Andreev, the 2002 world junior decathlon champion who last year returned to combined events, having spent the previous decade focusing on just the pole vault.
He began the second day with a 92-point lead over Japan’s Akihiko Nakamura with Keisuke Ushiro a further 50 points behind and Karpov in fourth. Andreev’s lead was reduced to just 16 points after the 110m hurdles, which was won by Nakamura in 14.33 to Andreev’s 14.95.
While Nakamura then struggled in the discus, throwing just 34.75m, his compatriot Ushiro excelled, throwing 48.98m, five metres farther than Andreev, but the Uzbek athlete maintained his pole position.
It was no surprise that having focused on the event for so long – even winning a silver medal in the event at the last Asian Games – Andreev produced the best pole vault mark of the day with 5.00m, bumping his leading margin back up to 153 points.
But Ushiro, a strong thrower, hit back in the javelin with 68.09m, eight metres farther than Andreev’s mark, and the gap between the pair was now down to 32 points.
At this stage, with one event remaining, Andreev had already surpassed his decathlon PB by 80 points with a total of 7463. But first he had the small matter of getting around the 1500m – by far his weakest event – and trying to hold on to his lead.
Inevitably, Ushiro beat Andreev in the 1500m by 43 seconds to snatch the victory in the final event with a score of 8088. It means that Ushiro ended his season undefeated in the decathlon, notching up four victories and having twice broken the Japanese record earlier in the season.
Andreev held on for second with a PB of 7879 with Nakamura taking bronze in 7828. After taking silver in 2002, then gold in 2006 and 2010, Karpov failed to make the podium this time, scoring 7749 in fourth.
Jon Mulkeen for the IAAF